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Boris Johnson broke the rules by being 'evasive' about his links to hedge funds

Boris Johnson broke the rules by being 'evasive' about his links to hedge funds


Boris Johnson broke UK government rules by being evasive about his links to a hedge fund, a parliamentary watchdog has found.

Lord Eric Pickles, chairman of the Advisory Committee on Professional Appointments (Acoba), wrote to Mr Johnson and Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden warning them of the breach.

The former prime minister was found to have failed to clarify his dealings with a hedge fund called Merlyn Advisors which arranged his visit to meet Venezuelan President Nicols Maduro.

Mr Johnson reportedly met Mr Maduro alongside Merlyn Advisors co-founder Maarten Petermann in February.

The administration of Venezuelan leaders is not recognized as legitimate by the British government because it does not accept that the 2018 presidential election, which saw the re-election of Mr Maduro, was conducted in accordance with international democratic standards.

Acoba repeatedly asked Mr Johnson to clarify his relationship with Merlyn Advisors, Lord Pickles wrote in his letter to Mr Dowden.

He did not do so, nor did he deny media reports that he was working with Merlyn Advisors on a non-contractual basis.

In correspondence dating back to March 18, the dating watchdog contacted Mr Johnson's office to ask him to describe his relationship with Merlyn Advisors following media coverage of his trip to Venezuela.

Photo released by the Venezuelan Presidency of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro speaking during a televised message at the Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas on March 28, 2021. - Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro offered on Sunday
The administration of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduros is not recognized as legitimate by the British government (Photo: Jhonn Zerpa/Venezuelan Presidency/AFP via Getty Images)

He responded that he had no contractual relationship with the company, and in subsequent correspondence said he had not been paid for any meetings in the South American country.

He added: I was extensively briefed by HMA (Her Majesty's Ambassador) Caracas before the meeting and took the opportunity to lobby for democracy, human rights and support for Ukraine.

Lord Pickles raised concerns about the fact that the trip had been paid for by Merlyn Advisors and about the nature of Mr Johnson's activities for the company, even though he was not under any formal contract.

The peer warned: If this is the case, there is a reasonable apprehension that you are acting in a role that would be inconsistent with Acoba's guidelines on one-off speaking engagements, which do not provide blanket approval for ad hoc consultative work .

Government rules state that former ministers must not accept new jobs or appointments for two years after leaving public office without prior advice from Acoba.

Mr Johnson did not respond to further questions from Lord Pickles about the nature of the meetings or his relationship with Merlyn, and said he believed there was clearly no need to consult or research Acoba about work.

Lord Pickles said there remained a reasonable apprehension that you were acting for Merlyn Advisors in a role that would be considered consultancy work, for which Acoba would have expected him to seek advice.

He added: Given the evasive nature of your responses, your inability to answer the specific questions asked of you or to provide context of your relationship with Merlyn Advisors, the committee found that there was a violation of government professional appointment rules. .

The head of the watchdog also reported the former prime minister's conduct to Mr Dowden, who is responsible for overseeing the Cabinet Office.

Little action is likely to be taken against Mr Johnson, Lord Pickles conceded, given that the rules no longer have relevance in the modern world and are inapplicable to candidates determined to ignore them.

He called on the government to reform the rules as it pledged to do in July 2023, to ensure anyone breaking them faced consequences.

Although Acoba regulates the work of former ministers for up to two years after their departure, it has no statutory powers.

Last June, Mr Johnson was found to have clearly broken government rules after becoming a Daily Mail columnist.

Acoba said he received only half an hour's notice from Mr Johnson before his new newspaper column was publicly announced.

Additional reporting from the PA news agency




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